Anthropology of the Education Bureaucracy
Elementary education has been a key area of government expansion in India over the last two decades, especially within the context of increasing global commitments towards universalisation of elementary education. Subsequently, a significant body of scholarly work has engaged with specific problems of the elementary education system. However, very few studies have delved into the institutional and organisational aspects of the education bureaucracy as a means of inquiring into the structure, functioning, and contradictory features of the system as a whole. This research study aims to fulfil the above gap and examines the nature of the elementary education bureaucracy with a focus on the state of Karnataka in India. The study is motivated by three questions: (1) Why do contradictions arise from what are obviously well-intentioned educational programmes? (2) By what ?logic? are the above contradictions sustained?both in the everyday processes of the education department and at the organisational level? and, (3) Is the discourse of ?good governance?, which drives much of international support for large-scale educational programmes, helpful in understanding and explaining the everyday practices of the education department? These three guiding questions are explored through ethnographic field-work conducted for a period of thirty months spread across the years 2006 to 2008. The study was conducted at different levels of the education bureaucracy within the state of Karnataka. The field of study for district and sub-district level work was in one of the socio-economically and educationally disadvantaged districts in South Karnataka and in the offices of the DDPIs, BEOs, BRCs, CRCs, and at schools. Besides this, field-work was carried out in the state-level offices of the education bureaucracy (the Commissioner?s office, state office of the SSA, and the DSERT) in the capital, Bangalore, and, to a more limited extent in the Ministry of Human Resource and Development at New Delhi. Collection of data encompassed multiple methods and included observations, interviews, career histories, and extended case studies. Secondary sources of data included: minutes/proceedings of meetings, official documents, project documents from the District Quality Education Project/Vidyankura of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, and newspaper reports. The study sketches the historical background of the key transitions that have taken place in elementary education administration both during colonial rule and in the period after independence, and underlines how in recent years there has been a turn towards ?programmatisation? in the administration of elementary education by the State. Such a trend has taken shape in a particular conjuncture characterised by: the global agendas for universalisation of elementary education; the neoliberal shift of the Indian state since the 1990s; a piece-meal approach to elementary educational reforms; and finally, the overwhelming focus on quantitative targets set under the Education for All agenda. The study analyses how at the level of a particular state, educational reforms are severely compromised in the way programmes are deployed but are subsequently displaced as they make their way through the education bureaucracy. Through an examination of everyday bureaucratic processes, the study also reveals how, in spite of such displacements of programmes, the agenda of ?programmatisation? acquires a logic of coherence and continuity. Finally, the study engages with quotidian practices of education functionaries and their narratives of corruption. The analysis reveals the inadequacy of accounting for such practices by both the now popular discourse of ?good governance? and also the alternative anthropological explanations which turn to cultural logics to explain such phenomenon. In its analyses, the study endorses recent work on the nature of the state and state apparatuses as well as on policies (both in development studies and in education) which emphasise that these objects of research are not necessarily the coherent, unitary entities they are taken to be in other disciplines. Moreover, by foregrounding power over cultural logics, the study poses a critique of new educational programmes and shows how these programmes are implicated in the ways the practices and processes of the education bureaucracy are re-shaped. Similarly, an understanding of power as being evident in practice in how it operates in and through both human and non-human entities (such as social technologies of governance), rather than as a characteristic that can be possessed and deployed, is shown to better explicate the diverse chains of association through which corrupt practices are sustained within the education bureaucracy. Overall, the study contributes to the areas of anthropology of education and anthropology of organisations, both of which are areas which have been understudied in the Indian context. Finally, through its engagement with issues pertaining to current educational programmes, the study has implications for policy and management of development and welfare initiatives.
The thesis was submitted to Manipal University.